Monday 18 April 2011

Bland and blander

With all four main parties now having published their manifestos, people can compare and contrast.  Well, compare, anyway; contrasting is a lot more difficult with so much overlap between the four parties on just about everything.  Much of the content could simply be swapped from one manifesto to any one of the others.
In his column in the Western Mail on Saturday, Matt Withers came to a similar conclusion.  I entirely agree with his comment that “essentially these four documents are all about make (sic) a case for being the most competent managers.”  We are not really being asked to decide between alternative routes forward for Wales; just between four leaders who want to take us to pretty much the same place, but all claiming that they can drive better than the others.
I don’t doubt that all four parties would try to argue that the statement is not true, and each would say that they (and they alone) have got some really big and original ideas in their manifestos – but that’s more about rhetoric and spin than about substance.
I also agree with his comment on the language in which the manifestos are couched.  Far too many of what look like promises are actually preceded by words such as seek, try, work towards, consider, examine, investigate, review, strive, develop, encourage…  None of these can be taken as firm promises, but discounting every ‘promise’ which starts with such weasel words would leave some very thin documents.
I cannot, though, agree with his conclusion that “the days of ideological warfare are over”.  The fact that the four main parties have chosen to converge in the same ideological territory doesn’t mean that there is no alternative which can be put.  It just means that we shouldn’t expect to see that alternative actually being put by the leaders of any of these parties.


Anonymous said...

there are alternatives in the shape of the Greens, Socialists, the Communist Party, UKIP, BNP and the Christian Party to name a few its just few people vote for them John.

As for bland manifesto's i agree, the same complaint made about UK Elections being decided by a handful of people in marginals, applies even more in Wales where 5 - 6,000 votes in 4 or 5 seats decides who governs.

With that as the backdrop to elections in Wales what incentive do any parties have to appeal to the wider electorate.

Anonymous said...

John ,they are a little different in some respects. but do converge in many respects.
The green party manifesto has the personal touch

Alwyn ap Huw said...

There is a political problem, as seen from the Westminster election, of parties converging on the same ground, (which. on an UK level, appears to be on the right of centre rather than on the middle ground).

As much as I think it would be healthy for democracy for that convergence to be disturbed by a return to ideological principals, I can't see that happening in Assembly elections.

Despite last month's vote, the main issues of ideology are not devolved. If you and I wish to differ from a principled left / right ideology our points of disagreement would probably be on the economy (not devolved), law and order (not devolved), the relationship between the individual and the state (not devolved).

If you and I were standing election against each other on May 5th, the only "differences" that we could offer might be you saying that, given the budget cut, you want fewer teachers and me saying I want fewer nurses!

Not a platform on which to build an ideology!

John Dixon said...


Broadly speaking, I agree with your comments. Any manifesto which sets out to show how a party is going to run Wales within the context of the current devolution settlement is going to end up sounding pretty similar to any other manifesto starting from the same point. And that means that we end up trying to choose the one we think will be the best driver.

But the constraint I set out above is a self-imposed one. Parties don't have to set out to say only what they'll do within that context; they could set a different context, and place the short term policies within that context.

Unknown said...

Part of me is hoping for a Labour majority in this election, to give Plaid a chance to re-think its idealogical purpose following the referendum.

It will also give Wales a chance to see just how much Labour has understood the need for distinctly Welsh policies, independent from London.

Of course, the cynic in me thinks that given a majority, Labour will revert to its bad old ways, and Wales will suffer.

Spirit of BME said...

As I stated in “Spotting the Difference” I think the PR system lends itself to creating blandness. However, I have to report an outbreak of an ideological comment that broke out quite accidentally on Miss H.M Jones interview on Newsnight last week.
Miss Jones was wheeled out as Plaid Cymru`s attack dog and did a very spirited and vigorous job of it, however 99% of it was as you explain all about style, management and heavily qualified promises, just the usual nonsenses we come to expect from parties. She then went off message and declares “I am a Socialist”, a comment aimed at getting the vote in where she is standing, I assume.
The Party Controllers must have had the vapours hoping that the swing voters in the Care and Resident Homes in Aberconwy would not have heard this and were punching out the zeds at that hour.
It would be harsh to say that she put “my job” before Party, but if Aberconwy does not fall into the bag, I am sure some sections will be calling for some explanation of a personal ideological statement, but I would defend her, as she and most Plaid Cymru`s AM`s can claim to be socialists as they have not created any wealth in their working lives and have always lived off the Public Purse.